If you ever have the gift of sitting with someone who is dying gradually and peacefully, you’ll notice how luminous and translucent they become. It’s as though their inner light is glowing brightly as the layers of the small self, the attitudes of the ordinary mind, fall away.
Many years before, a dear old friend Bob, an avowed atheist and dedicated smoker to the end, was dying in palliative care. He had been our next-door neighbor when Josh was little — a gentle, unconditionally loving grandfather figure. We lived in a big old house divided into three small flats. Josh spent many happy hours in the garden with him. Bob had experienced some terrible suffering in his life and was often deeply depressed. But over the last few weeks of his life in palliative care he became light and translucent, happy. He became awareness. One day, when I was visiting, he told me that he could see that we were all in a movie, he and I, the doctors, nurses and patients all playing our parts, and he was full of joy, delight in this seeing. He said, “You as a doctor should research this.” I said I would.
In his last week he became afraid, afraid of dying, the process and the nothingness at the end. Then, one night, the man in the bed next to him was in the final stages of dying with two women by his bed all night singing hymns, praying and gently talking and laughing. As the gentleman died, Bob too experienced great peace and comfort and told me the next day, with tears in his eyes, that he wasn’t afraid now. He hadn’t ‘got religion’ but had experienced up close the okayness of dropping the prison of identity and body and letting go into the all-loving space. A day or two later the nurse on morning shift asked him how he was. “I’m fine,” he said with a smile. When she came back with his breakfast, he was gone.
There is no one, no inherently real self, to die if we can relax ‘I’ the experiencer, into pure presence, awareness, emptiness beyond the ‘I’. “Let go of everything” is a common Buddhist expression. To do that it definitely helps to have a sense of loving Presence to let go into. This infinite luminous presence awareness emptiness can appear as beings. We can experience that there really is a “there” there. There is refuge that is both personal and universal.
With Rinpoche at the center of my mind, I was home. Nowhere to go, nothing to do. That was a physical reality. But it was also a mind reality. I was home. Safe. Live or die. The ultimate refuge. Of this I was certain and could relax. There’s something about this deep experience of refuge that I never felt lost or desperate. All is well even when it isn’t.
The first time I experienced this was when I had an interview with a visiting Tibetan Buddhist Lama just after Josh was born. I had been searching for the truth a long while and had given up.
This lovely warm man in his 50‘s was smiling and sitting comfortably cross-legged on a cushion. I sat in front of him and proceeded to explain why I was there, information gathering. Small problem: he spoke almost no English and there was no translator. I felt awkward and wanted to leave, but I had an hour booked so I went to see if there was a Tibetan-English dictionary in the house. I handed Josh, my tiny jaundiced boy, to him and when I came back Josh was lying, cradled in his lap, eyes open and peaceful, with one of Rinpoche’s hands on his heart and one on his crown. One word at a time I made sentences and showed Rinpoche the corresponding Tibetan word. He’d nod and smile and on I went.
As I focused intently on the book, I became increasingly aware of the space, the spaciousness around me and ‘in’ me, without there being any inside or outside. This space was ‘full’ of awareness, awakeness. As I looked up at the smiling Lama, in an instant I knew beyond any doubt that he could see everything about me, every bit of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ through time and beyond, without any judgment. It was as though I was naked, mind and body, and I knew and felt with certainty that I was utterly loved in every cell of my Being.
Suddenly I could see myself through his eyes, through his heart’s eyes, the intense mental effort I was putting into my project and I burst out laughing at the seriousness, the furrowed brow, the trying to get something right, looking for the truth with my analytical mind. What a show! He was laughing with me, sharing the same knowing. I knew that he knew. As we laughed, reality cracked open. The apparent solidity of myself, the room, everything fell away. The physical universe, the room that we were in, was insubstantial and had a luminous quality. The Lama was the sun, not ‘like the sun’, but was the source, the sun, radiating golden light, brilliant, warm and utterly, utterly kind. I knew that he was Truth. My billions of cells felt blissful, sparkling and loved. There was nothing else needed. I was experiencing myself as a transparent body of bliss and as the same divine awareness that the Lama was. At the same time nothing was inherently real. Not the man before me, not the world, not me.
“Whatever you are,” I said, pointing at him, “me too” pointing at my heart. He nodded. Yes. That was it. I had found truth and it was the best joke there is. After searching for my whole life, I had met Truth in person. I knew now where to aim. From then on, for some time, the space of my heart seemed to act as another sense organ, a subtle but clear perceiver of the world. It was the knower and navigator of my life for a while.
Over the years I have had many transcendental experiences, but this was in a category all of its own. I had met Truth and it had a beautiful, smiling human face. The Lama didn’t say or do anything to show me this. His very being was the teaching.
Back in ICU, it might simply have been that I had no escape. I was physically powerless to move out of the situation. I had no responsibilities, no choices, I didn’t need to make an effort, and I couldn’t get anything right or wrong. I was even being assisted to breathe. The usual sense of hurry and time pressure was gone. I had no business to attend to, no plan, nothing to succeed at or fail at, no ‘next’. What else to do but let go? When all else failed Truth was right there. For large chunks of time I wasn’t identified with my body, my story or through-line so it was more natural to flow from openness and awareness.
In this state of trust, I found that my mind opened into the vastness of consciousness, an exquisite luminous love that was, and is, present, the truth of everything, beyond life and death.
For a time, I was inseparable from this consciousness, not Rinpoche’s mind, not my mind, but MIND, pure awareness.
Rinpoche once said, “Death isn’t real…neither is life.” That’s where the adventure is for me now, in fully realizing the truth of that while I’m still alive.
Find out more about Dr. Julie Kidd and sign up to receive an excerpt of her new book, The Mind of Healing, by visiting her website — MindofHealing.com.au
Dr. Julie Kidd is a GP and hypnotherapist in Canberra, Australia. For over forty years, she has been practicing medicine in public hospitals, as a country GP, holistic GP, in heart disease prevention and in medical hypnosis. For the past twenty of those years, she’s been helping people with their minds – breaking the cycles of anxiety, fears, depression, insomnia, addictive behaviors, and weight problems. Just over ten years ago, she was diagnosed with a hemorrhaging malignant brain tumor that required drastic surgery and caused severe disabilities. She has recovered and rebuilt her mind and body so that she now lives a happy, healthy life.